Interview with Matt Crookshank

22 June 2005

Matt Crookshank currently has a show on right now with Lisa Pereira (interview with her to come) at Gallery 61, entitled, Diamonds in the Ruff and which runs until July 3. It is easily some of the most unique work out there at the moment, and so I sent Matt some questions.

Before we begin, here's the PR Matt sent out last week in preparation for the last Friday's opening:

5 Chimera Love Paintings Matt Crookshank 2005 Chimera Love, so addicting. Love Bites! Like Pandora's Box, the devil in Miss Jones, these dirty slut paintings are prepared for you, but are you prepared for them? Drenched in sin, decadence and debauchery, they are the best kind of poison. Drink and be imprisoned in the cage with golden bars."

Shade 1-3 revisited Matt Crookshank 2005 A shade is the insubstantial remains of the dead, a phantom without a body or the power of thought. When hung together, these paintings create a temporary window through which one can view Hades without having to actually stay there for eternity."

One of the viewers said that the circles looked like old used condoms. When I asked you about it, you said that to you they were like pockets of energy emerging between the branes of the multiverse of String Theory. Do you think this reflects some kind of fractal of reality, as a dried condom is in a way, a pocket of (captured) energy?

And, was she right-on, considering these were the Chimera love, 'dirty slut' paintings? (weren't they?)

I loved her association to dirty condoms. I'm definitely interested in skins, and membranes, and fluidity in between structures. I find all of that rather sensual, and somehow almost 'sinful'. There's something so decadent about tubing out entire tubes of paint onto your canvas. It's gratuitous. And when the varnish breaks through the tubed dikes, and slides all over the canvas against my will... oh my god...

You've told me in the past that this style of yours, with circles and squiggles are inspired by String Theory, are these:
a) concrete representations of something abstract,
b) concrete representations of a concrete reality,
c) abstract representations of a concrete reality,
d) abstract representations of an abstract reality?

e) None of the above. My paintings are not representations of anything. They are something. Certainly there are ideas in them from String Theory, and from other sources. But they are not illustrations of String Theory. They are cohesive and total power magic spells and they are designed to effect people and create changes.

I want you to talk about the 'failure' stuff, and this whole thing about being disgusting. I don't really see the paintings as particularly gross - I see an interplay between materials, but they aren't what we'd easily call beautiful. One pocket of yellow and red reminded people of a pussy sore, as if that's the only thing that red and yellow can suggest. What's going into your colour choices? Are the red and yellow here not related to fire, to being a window into Hades/Hell?

It depends on how you define 'disgusting'. I think something that is gratuitous is often disgusting. Too much of something becomes gross. Do you ever have a moment when you get too turned on maybe? Or too titillated? Too aroused? And then it all comes crashing down cause it's too much. When there's been too much suspense and the illusion breaks. I love that line, that moment when it goes from beauty to horror. I like to make my paintings play that line.

As far as colours being representations of fire, no. My colour choices generally just pop into my head when I look at a canvas. It just says 'I need some red' or whatever. My paintings aren't representations of anything, not in the way that they're painted anyway. And they're also not symbolic - I loathe symbolism. So speak and say. Yuck.

My paintings are magic spells. I know that sounds sort of simple, like I'm some kind of village idiot, but it's true


I love abstract paintings because you can allow them to become these organic systems, and before you know it they've gotten away from you and taken on a life of their own. They each have their own energy, and they are meant to make people change. When I write about my paintings raising hell, or creating world peace, or starting revolution, of course that's all tongue in cheek. I know that my paintings probably won't do any of those things. I can't be totally sure of it, and I certainly am thinking and dreaming rather seriously about those kinds of ideas while I paint, but I'm aware that most of the time they will fail in my more grandiose magic casting intentions.

But this general idea, that a painting can make something tangible happen, that I have seen with my own eyes. I know how paintings can change people, and how they can open minds. There is a very real energy in painting, and it translates to the viewer. You can make someone change, you can affect their mind, and you can create all kinds of effects. Right now, I might not be causing reckless debauchery and dementia through my paintings, but one day! Just you wait.

Obviously chance is playing a part of the process, so I wonder how much you try to control, and if you do any editing after the fact, in case it didn't turn out like you hoped.

How can you edit poured varnish? It does whatever it wants. The other elements in my paintings are extremely controlled. The painted lines are details of sketches or strokes with my computer mouse. Sometimes I lay out compositions in Photoshop. I build a very strict structure, a foundation, for the varnish to flirt with. Once I lay the varnish, I'm introducing the liquid, the fuel, and the fluid that works inside the structure. It's the contrast of these two simple things that really lets the paintings take off. I love the varnish because from then on, the paintings pretty much paint themselves. It's not 'my free subconscious expression' and it's not something I compose and control. It's actually something entirely random. Of course I mix in whatever colours I want, but this varnish is so unpredictable, even after 5 years using it I can't know what it will do.

Let's talk about abstraction. What do you enjoy about it?

Abstract painting is the most difficult thing to do well. It is so easy to make terrible abstract paintings, but it is so very hard to make extremely powerful and overwhelming abstract art.

I love that abstract painting is such a degraded art form. It went from the highest of high art with abstract expressionism, to (what it seems to be now in Toronto) the most reviled and abhorred practice. Especially from the context of a straight white male. How predictable!

Of course, the rest of the world is way ahead of Toronto on this. Abstraction is so exciting right now. There is so much innovation, and it's really able to capture and translate the complex myriad structures we now live in so effectively. In Toronto though, it seems like people are still stuck in the 90s, still so embarrassed by abstract painting.

Still, people just don't seem to know how to deal with it. They keep looking for a way to 'read' it, to force a narrative. Whether that's the tired narrative of formalism, or the cliché of pure expression. So many people seem so at a loss. It's so much easier to look at badly drawn cartoon art, which is a blight upon Toronto right now.

When will that shit die and go away?? If I were to draw or paint cartoons, I'd become a graphic novelist. That's something you can respect! But how can anyone respect an artist's stoner sketches, pinned up on a wall? A narrative no deeper than loose nostalgic empathy, maybe with a bit of irony and sarcasm thrown in. Barf.

Abstract painting is fucking HARD. It challenges me. Once you've really allowed a painting to come to life, and it starts to tell you what do paint next, that's when you've really gotten somewhere. You're out of your own head, and you're into some kind of new territory where you're forced to respond and be inventive and problem-solve. I had a fantasy once of curating an abstract art show, and forcing all these conceptual artists, and cartoon drawers, and realist painters and photographers to make abstract paintings. Because it is, to my mind, so much more of a challenge than other art practices.

I know I'm sounding totally pretentious right now, but really think about it? There's nothing else to grab a hold of. No narrative, no figure, no ground, no concept. You have to make the painting speak on its own. And I'm not talking 'art for art's sake' here. I mean you have to make it really talk to people, to make them change. I've seen it with so many people, getting excited and turned on in front of my paintings. High is the new low.

Abstract painting is the most difficult of all art forms to perfect. It's like poetry. Listening to most poetry is like living a nightmare. But every now and then someone is so good, that it makes you forget about every shitty bad piece of poetry you've ever read or heard in you life. Abstract painting is the same way. It's terrible - 99% of it is terrible. Because it's so HARD. So much art I see my peers in Toronto making right now, it's so easy to produce. It's a quick idea. A one off joke. No commitment. It can be very quirky and fun, certainly. But I don't know how that can be fulfilling. There's no daring, no chance, no allowing for chaos and then dealing with what comes next.

Diamonds in the Ruff continues at Gallery 61 (61 Ossington Ave) until July 3. Gallery hours: fri 7-10pm, sat 1-6pm or by appointment

Matt is also currently showing at Solo Exhibition (Barr Gilmore's storefront window space) at 787 Queen West. That piece is called Chimera Cesspool (of Sin) which consists of oil and varnish on glass. Solo Exhibition runs from one full moon to the next, and so that show ends on July 20 (the day they landed on the moon!)

Images from Matt's website,


  1. June 2005: Published on
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